Family Law: A Young Person’s Viewpoint

When this hand written letter arrived at the OnlyDads office we knew that it would resonate with many (I’ll say Dads, because it mostly is Dads) and their children.

To readers of this post we have a request to make. Our #familylaw event is being followed by influential people in the world of family law. If you have a child who would like to express their anonymous view of divorce/separation and the processes they went through then please let us know. If we can post up their articles, this will make for a really valuable archive that can be utilised by policy makers and practioners alike.

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To be completely honest, there is so much to say about Family Court and I will try and explain this to the best of my ability. I am only 13 and I know for a fact there are things I don’t know and understand but I will try my best to write this well. I hope people don’t go against my way of saying or explaining but here I go anyway.

I think the whole experience of family court is like a game of Chinese Whispers. I mean you say something and it comes out the other end completely different. Like I could say “clocks go tick-tock” and it would come out as “cats like hip hop”. By the way, that was not meant to be funny but I’m guessing it was! So funny in fact you forgot to laugh.

Anyway, what was I saying about Chinese whispers. Well, it can be very frustrating at times.

Family Court, believe it or not, could have changed the whole of my childhood and I didn’t feel listened to and I wanted to be taken more seriously. The thing which gave me sleepless nights and a sea of salty tears was CAFCASS. I was never a fan of those officers who come and visit and never stop smiling and make you feel very very intimidated. They always used to remind me of the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland. No offence to any CAFCASS people reading this. One lady came and talked to me and said “mum is a cat and dad is a dog”. Then 5 long minutes later she said “what do you prefer, cats or dogs”. I had always loved cats since I was little so of course I blurted out “I prefer cats”. It is now I realise these little things they were trying to get out of me.

I found “The judge” was mentioned and how he was going to make the decision of who I lived with. And not being boastful, but this court was about me. So why couldn’t I see him? CAFCASS told him the complete opposite of what I was trying to say. It was too much for a girl of my age and I couldn’t take it. It got to the point where I was physically and emotionally sick.

I think they made me feel this was my fault and I felt guilty when they demanded answers from me. Don’t get the wrong idea, they were very loving people but their way of working wasn’t impressive.

I never want to go through that again and I mean that. It was years of hell to be honest. I know I should really quit complaining but I now realise how sneaky CAFCASS are. They sort of trick kids like saying Mum lives in a castle with glowing pink lights and a moonlight dolphin pool, and dad lives in a normal house. Where do you want to live? What do you think most young girls would say?

All I am saying is that I think kids should have more say. The courts are about them and in the end they have to be listened to. It’s not a fair situation and kids are heart broken from believing it’s their fault.

Luckily, as you can tell, I am a very gobby person and I can stand up for myself, but I know other kids may not be. In my eyes, kids need three things:

1.Their own say
2.Advice from people who have been through it or at least understand
3.No being tricked – they need more true honesty
I did get my own way in the end and everything’s worked out but I look back and think I could have done a better job than CAFCASS.

Now my hands are killing me from writing this and I will begin to bore you. But this is my personal opinion on Family Court.

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About onlydads

Single Dad living near Totnes in Devon. I founded www.onlydads.org in 2007 and live with my daughters Priya, 14 and Anya 11. I write about single parenting, work, overcoming trials and tribulations and sometimes not overcoming trials and tribulations.
This entry was posted in Family Law, Family Law Fortnight, Putting children first, Talking to kids. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Family Law: A Young Person’s Viewpoint

  1. Rob says:

    Sadly, there are too many stories like these.

    I truly believe that children should be encouraged to spend as much time as possible with each of their parents, and that it is the parent’s responsibility to encourage this. My children would not thank me in later years if I obstructed contact with their mother, and neither should they. I’m the one who is supposed to be the adult, and yes, whilst they have feelings and wants/wishes, it is my duty, as a parent, to see the bigger picture on their behalf. My Dad used to say to me “You can want whatever you want when you’re a grown-up. Until then, I’m in charge“. He had a fair point.

    Not every divorced parent thinks like me on this, and that is unfortunate and sad. Plenty of research shows children need both parents in their lives for a reason. I believe that this means more than once a fortnight, and for both parents. I truly wish CAFCASS would take the same view.

    • Susan says:

      Totally disagree, it’s not always in the best interest to have both parents in the children’s lives. I have been trying to co-parent with a father who has a conviction of assault, nearly broke my jaw. He has a string of past relationships were he was violent and was in psychiatric hospital in his 20’s having narcissistic personality disorder. Thank heavens for having a CAFCASS officer who was clued up on violent abusive men and their tactics. My children have expressed NOT to even know their father since he has hurt them physically on overnight stays. Bet you didn’t know that as a matter of course fathers have their children stay over night even when they have a criminal for record for violence. Many many women are dragged through the courts by these men to try and keep their children safe.

  2. ABeautifulMind1 says:

    I concur with Rob. I just want to ask “and what about this child’s parents, what are they doing?” It is the parents that have put this child through this. I think it is so easy to say that CAFCASS aren’t listening, the judges aren’t listening….but if the child”s view of where they want to live is so strong – then why aren’t the parents listening? Am I missing something here?

    My only experience of CAFCASS is with my brother. They were brilliant and listened to my 6 year old nephew very carefully. He ended up living with my brother full-time, along with his 4 year old dying sister.

    I don’t know if any of you have seen this? http://tinyurl.com/45l89l8 The judge DID listen to the child. In this case, it is the father who didn’t.

    • onlydads says:

      Interesting comment…I am not sure it is easy for children to say that CAFCASS or Judges don’t listen. In the UK at least they don’t have much of a platform for expressing such opinions.

      Many parents we talk to seek the protection of their children via the Court system. They do so I am sure from a good place.

      I think this article highlights possible problems with CAFCASS officers not really listening to children properly. That may come from lack of training or lack of time…maybe both?

      • ABeautifulMind1 says:

        sorry! I didn’t mean the children!! I meant that it is easy for all of US looking at making changes to blame it on CAFCASS or judges not listening because there clearly are cases where they do listen.

        Maybe it’s training and lack of time, as you say. With my brother, it was a long time ago so even rarer for dads to have custody, but possibly the officers had more time and it wasn’t such a “tick box” exercise??

        You know…in those days when people answered the telephones instead of machines and when people were allowed to do jobs instead of filling in pieces of paper? 🙂

        I have noticed on the CAFCASS site that there are always vacancies. Always. I wonder whether they have a high turnover perhaps? So they never get to build up enough experience? I really don’t know.

  3. Rob says:

    I agree that the parents should have been listening to the child in the original post, and more importantly, making a plan that took into account the child’s wishes and protected contact with both parents. It’s easy for us as outsiders though when we don’t know the ins and outs of the case, and we don’t know what other factors were at play.

    Let’s take the link you supplied as an example: their marriage was clearly on the rocks before they moved to Canada, and the wife seems pretty vocal about her anti-Canada stance. This in no doubt influenced the kids who, if the marriage had been working, would have just had to “lump it” like the hundreds of thousands of kids who emigrate with their parents every year. In this case however the parents weren’t on the same page.

    Let’s look a bit further… the mother booked flights for her and the kids without discussing it with the father and certainly without his consent, and they simply DISAPPEARED whilst he was at the shops. No matter what level you look at, this isn’t acceptable. The mother would have been up in arms if he’d done the same to her, and quite rightly too. There’s no excuse for her not using the Canadian system if she couldn’t reach an agreement directly with him.

    Three things stand out to me from the mother’s comments :

    “I had no idea he could accuse me of abducting the children. After all, every day in the UK mothers and their children leave the marital home and no one accuses them of abduction”

    “And I would never have stopped Ian seeing the girls – our marriage was over and I didn’t want to live in Canada a moment longer”

    “I will never get over being accused of abducting my own British-born children from a country we only ever spent 18 months in”

    I think these 3 comments sum up perfectly what is fundamentally wrong with most parent’s behaviour in divorce cases.

    As for the father in this case? well I have little regard for him either if the following is true:

    …”who has not heard from her husband since the ruling”.

    I understand exactly how frightened, angry, and upset he must have been when they just disappeared like that, and I understand why he fought to have them returned, certainly in the first instance. Perhaps he’s done the right thing now and moved back to the UK to be closer to his children or worked out a plan with them that they go over to Canada over the summer months when the temperature can reach the mid 30s…

    I really hope that he hasn’t just written his relationship with his kids off.

    • ABeautifulMind1 says:

      I agree with you. Like anything, unless you were actually in that very relationship, it is impossible to know what has happened within it. Maybe she left in a hurry due to domestic violence? Or maybe she was just a selfish wife? It is impossible to tell from the newspaper article.

      I felt afterwards that maybe it was a bad example as it was about a man (as opposed to a woman) not listening; but I thought of it because it was so fresh in my mind having only read it yesterday.

      As a woman, I could never have done what she did. And I thought the choice of photo showing the man, by the newspaper was disgraceful. Just reading what was printed on it….am sure that was to make the reader think he was the type of man to be obnoxious and who wouldn’t care. It’s just a t-shirt but visual images have such a powerful effect and can sometimes give the wrong message; I think the use of it was wrong.

      What I was trying to get across, probably not very effectively, was to say to parents to take control and put your children before your own agendas. It worries me that so many end up in the family court system where they lose control and could end up with decisions made that are in their worst nightmares (and lose all of their family money in the process).

      This isn’t a war of the sexes for me. I gave the example about my brother because he had a very positive experience with CAFCASS. It was terribly emotional and traumatic for him at the court (I was there). After the doom and gloom of the post, I wanted to give men reading this site a bit of a lift afterwards, to show them that there *is* hope – that against all odds (I know the statistics are rubbish) their children may still get to live with them.

      And the Canada case, was merely to illustrate that it is possible for things to change. Here was a judge who listened.

  4. onlydads says:

    All good comments Rob…

    …what jumped out at me was the Dad’s T-shirt. I can almost see the journalist flicking through the family album until that one popped out!

    It’s the Daily Mail and as I tweeted earleir today to the journalist.”Court says child must live with Mum” is not news!

    • Rob says:

      Yes, I’m sure the journo rubbed their hands in glee when they saw that photo… tied in nicely with their story’s angle. Wonder how they got hold of it??

      You make the point in one of your other comments that perhaps CAFCASS don’t listen to the children enough. I think your original letter highlights that far from just listening, certain CAFCASS officers may in fact be putting words into the mouths of children. I can’t speak on this aspect from experience, but I do know exactly how the ones I dealt with operated with parents…

      • ABeautifulMind1 says:

        I thought that too Rob, the putting words in their mouths. That’s very scary. I wonder whether that officer allowed themselves to be influenced by the parent?? Their questions seemed to be wanting a particular answer. I thought they are meant to be completely impartial; they are meant to be the voice of the CHILD. I found that part quite disturbing as I volunteered for Barnardo’s to be an advocate for children. I’m rather passionate about children having a voice.

    • ABeautifulMind1 says:

      oh my god! I’ve just typed that!!! (re the t-shirt) lol

  5. Liz Davies says:

    First of all – well done on such a well written article. I honestly hope people take notice of this. Older children really should have their say and to be given honest choices following honest discussions. Don’t ever talk down to children. Give them credit for their own opinions.

  6. Ruth says:

    I’ve been following this discussion all day and I think the whole point of the post has been derailed.
    The young person that wrote this post does not say which parent they are living with, they do not say whether or not they are in contact with the non-resident parent, yet commentators seem to have made up their minds about that already.
    The young person writes about not being listened to and we as readers and adults are doing just what they are complaining about; bringing our own agendas to bear on their experience.
    Surely the discussion after this post should be about children’s experience of the court system and how this affects them, not our postulations on whether or not we think the parents should have sorted their issues out before it got to court; they clearly weren’t able to for whatever reasons.
    This is an eloquently written post that expresses a mature grasp of the process they were placed in and how it treated them.
    Surely for such life defining and stressful times the system should be listening to the young people that are affected by them most.

    • ABeautifulMind1 says:

      I hadn’t made up my mind, to me it was irrelevant which parent the child in the article is living with. The only point of the article to me was that the child was put through a court system that caused them distress and anxiety, and made them feel like their voice didn’t matter. I thought that was the point of CAFCASS – it is meant to be their role, the voice of the child in our family court system. I have no idea how successful that is as a whole though.

    • Rob says:

      Interesting.

      I appreciate the position that child was put in, and yes, they were very eloquent about it.

      I just don’t believe that :

      1. Children should be put in a position of “choosing”
      2. CAFCASS are the best people to evaluate and convey the child’s “choice”
      3. “Choice” should be “opinion”

      I do believe that Children should be encouraged to spend time with both parents

      Hope that clears that up

      • Rob says:

        oh dammit, no 4 doesn’t make sense because I started by saying I don’t believe…

        I DO believe children should be encouraged to spend time with both parents.

        apologies

  7. Phil Andrews says:

    Having read the girls letter, I have quickly skimmed to the bottom of the page to leave a comment and hope it has not been covered already so I do apologise if it has.

    I don’t think it is just the officials that can put words in their mouths, or misinterpret what is getting said. The situation I find myself in is that my daughters live in fear of their mothers reaction should they say anything against her wishes and more significantly what she has told them to say. I am not sure how a teacher can believe that she is a responsible person and professional to do that to her own children, and even more surprising her comment of “I am the professional, I know what’s best and they don’t need to see their dad during term time”.

    Very sad when someone like this is prepared, and able to control what she wants, rather that considering her own children.

  8. suzymiller says:

    All interesting comments, but let’s focus instead on encouraging children to send in their stories by email or as audio recordings. It’s their words that we need to be reading, and their voices we need to be listening to.

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